Good Shepherd Sunday – Sunday, April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018  
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John 10:11-18

“I’d do anything for you, dear, anything for you mean everything to me…”

(“I’d Do Anything” from Oliver).

The words aren’t the same but, basically Jesus is singing this song to us in today’s gospel.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

I’d do anything for you.

Anything.

For you mean everything to me.

Don’t take those words any other way than literally. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Jesus did lay down his life for us. Jesus died for us and for the world.

I’m tempted to say “ok. End of story.” And then sit down. But it is not the end of the story it is the beginning. We are in the season of Easter, after all. We are here to celebrate the resurrected Christ.

And yet, there is no resurrection without death. Jesus died for us and for the world.

Jesus said “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, for I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18).

Did God intend for Jesus to die? Scripture is clear, God gave Jesus to the world out of love, to save the world. As Jesus tells us in today’s reading “I have received this command from my Father” (John 10:18).

Was his death a fulfillment of scripture? Yes. As Christians we believe he fulfilled the testimony of the prophets.

Did Jesus have a choice? Today’s reading certainly leads us to believe that he did.

What does this mean?

One scholar wrote “The identity of Jesus and the identity of the community that gathers around him are inextricably linked… For the community of faith, human identity is determined by Jesus’ identity… the community that gathers around Jesus receives its identity through Jesus’ gift of his life for them. In the end, to be a member of Jesus’ flock is to know oneself as being among those for whom Jesus is willing to die” (John 10:1-20 The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 9, p. 672).

“I’d do anything for you, dear anything for you mean everything to me…”

This is where the story begins for us. The story begins when we see ourselves as people for whom Jesus died. This is where our story begins as children of God, as followers of Christ, as members of this community of faith, as members of the Church, capital C that rhymes with D which stands for death, a death partnered forever with resurrection.

Who we are cannot be separated from who Jesus is as presented to us in this story.

“Jesus makes the love of God fully available by expressing that love in his death” (NIB vol. 9, p. 673).

Jesus was and is our Good Shepherd.

Jesus died for us. Jesus did everything for us because we, and the whole world were and are everything to Jesus.

Our gospel text is a love story.

Our gospel text is our story.

Our Gospel text is the world’s story.

I’m tempted to move ahead and start talking about what sacrificial love means for us and how we are called to live our lives as followers of Jesus. I’m tempted to move ahead and talk about the sacrifices we are called to make. I’m not going to do anymore than reference the temptation… at least for today.

Because I want you to know, and to remember, and to walk out of this space, or to walk out of any room you might be sitting in as you worship with us online

BELIEVING THAT JESUS DIED FOR YOU.

Jesus died for you. And for me. And for the world.

Our Good Shepherd died for us.

Thanks be to God for the new life we have been given.

Amen.

Third Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 15, 2018  
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Luke 24:13-35

The road to Emmaus. The village is as mysterious as the story. In modern times, no less than four communities outside of Jerusalem claim to be the original Emmaus. Each village has its own proof, its own religious relics, and its own religious scholars verifying its claims. But, truth be told, no one knows for sure where Emmaus actually was. All we know is that two disciples of Jesus were journeying to Emmaus, when they encountered a stranger.

Which is another point of interest. The two disciples. No one really knows who the two disciples were. Who has heard of Cleopas, outside this particular story? No one, prior to the telling of the story. Who will ever hear of Cleopas again? No one. This was his moment. And note: his companion was never even named.

Our gospel story is a mystery, shrouded in grief. Or is it a story of grief, shrouded in mystery?

Two followers of Jesus were walking to Emmaus. A lot had happened to them in prior days, so they were doing what anyone might have done: talking about it. The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The last supper with Jesus. The arrest of Jesus. The shuffling back and forth between religious and civil courts of Jesus. The unruly crowds, the mob, demanding the death of Jesus. Jesus hanging on the cross.

People were grieving. In Luke’s version of the story, when the story of the resurrection was told to a small group of women, they went and told others what they had heard. No one believed them. Only Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself if it was empty. It was.

Next thing you know two unknown disciples were walking to Emmaus. The two of them were so busy talking about Jesus, they did not realize Jesus had joined them on their journey. We as the readers of the story know Jesus walked with them. They didn’t. In their hearts and lives, Jesus was dead. As was their hope. Even though the man they had hoped in walked with them—they didn’t know him.

The two disciples were so absorbed in their grief, they didn’t recognize the presence of the person they were grieving.

Think about this: if the two disciples hadn’t invited Jesus to stay with them once they reached Emmaus, if they hadn’t invited him to share a meal with them, and if he hadn’t taken the bread, blessing it and breaking it—they never would have known who he was. Even as it happened, as soon as they recognized Jesus he disappeared…

Where does Jesus meet us?

The most obvious answer is through Word and Sacrament. Jesus speaks to us in and through the Word. Jesus appears to us in the breaking of the bread each week.

Where else might we find him?

In the gospel of Matthew it is written that Jesus said to some righteous people

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (25:35-36)

Then the righteous people asked “When did we do these things?” (25:37-39)

And Jesus said

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (25:40)

This is our mystery: having the faith to BELIEVE that we see Jesus when we see those who are hungry. Having the faith to believe that we see Jesus when we see those needing clothes and shelter. Having the faith to believe that we see Jesus when we see the homeless, we see Jesus when we see the sick, or see those in prison.

How often do we look at those who are suffering and see—really see who they are? How often do we see Jesus?

How often are we so caught up in our own stuff, our own thoughts and feelings, that we forget to hear the needs of others?

What is interesting to me about this story is that Jesus never let on to the disciples who he was, he simply stayed with them until they figured it out for themselves.

Jesus didn’t go “Hey! It’s me! I’m the guy you are talking about!”

The same can be said for us, now. Folks who need us don’t jump up and down yelling “help me!” They don’t say “Hello! I need you right now. I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I need a home I hurt.” Some people do. Others don’t. Others languish until someone notices their need.

This could happen to us. Jesus could be walking with us. Jesus could be that guy sitting on the corner asking for some money. Jesus could be the guy sitting on the sidewalk with his back up against a cold brick building. Jesus could be the person walking into the church office, asking for a gas voucher. Jesus is those people—according to him.

How will we treat him?

What will we say?

Will he vanish before we’ve had a chance to help?

Or, if we are the one needing assistance, if we are the one who is hungry, who is hurt, who thirsts… how do we see Jesus mirrored in our own need? How do we respect ourselves, maintaining our own dignity? How do we ask others for help?

These are important questions to answer. Before answering we need to listen, we need to open our hearts and minds. We need to open our eyes to see, to really see Jesus.

Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8, 2018  
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John 20:19-31

When he saw the wounds, when he touched the wounds Thomas believed.

Thomas, traditionally known as “doubting Thomas,” struggled to believe what the other disciples were saying when they told him they had seen Jesus. Everyone saw Jesus die. Everyone knew Jesus was buried, and where. But then, only two days later, Mary was telling folks that the tomb Jesus was buried in was empty. And that she had seen Jesus, alive. That same night Jesus appeared to almost all of the disciples, locked in a room. They saw him. He spoke to them.

Unfortunately, Thomas wasn’t in the locked room with the other disciples. He doubted his friends when they told him they had seen Jesus alive. But then Jesus appeared to them all and Thomas was able to touch the wounds in Jesus’s hands, to touch the wound in Jesus’ side.

Scripture tells us Jesus told Thomas “Reach out your hand and put it in my side…” (John 20:27). Thomas was touching an open wound.

Jesus was alive.

***

This is a place where Jesus meets us. In our wounded-ness.

A resource I was reading on this text said “Today, the power of the resurrection is most realized in the real, deep wounds of Jesus’ own body” (Sundays & Seasons for Easter 2 2018). And it is provocative to consider that, although Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus still carried his wounds with him.

He carried his wounds on his body… open wounds.

Recently a woman came to church greatly distressed. She was hearing voices. Evil voices. Voices telling her she was condemned, telling her she would not be saved. She had sinned, an awful sin. As she and I spoke she flipped through the bible reading verse after verse, telling me the verses were clear, she would not be saved. Her distress was palpable. I kept telling her Jesus loved her. I told her the bible was clear, she was forgiven and loved. I encouraged her to listen for God’s voice, because God was speaking words of love to her. She began to cry, saying “I try. But I can’t hear God…”

“I can’t hear God.”

We sat in the chapel talking. The bible was on the pew between us. She kept flipping the pages, reading verses that condemned her for her sin. Finally I reached my hand out and I closed the bible gently. I said “This book was not written to be used as a weapon. You are using it to hurt yourself. This is a book of love. God loves you.”

Our eyes locked. I asked her if she was baptized. She said yes. I told her that, when she was baptized her sins were washed away. I told her she could wake up every day knowing her sins were washed away. She was and is forgiven. I repeated over and over, God loves you. You are forgiven. God loves you…

It was evident, her sin left her with a deeply wounded spirit.

God comes to us in our wounded-ness, God comes to us to offer us healing and love.

Whatever your wounds, however deep or superficial, God is there with you, understanding the pain of those wounds. God empathizes. God watched God’s son die, knowing it was necessary in order to save the world.
Of course, God knew Jesus would rise from the dead. Which brings us full circle to the matter of Jesus’ wounds.
When Thomas was able to touch Jesus’ hands, to place his hand IN Jesus’ side, Thomas trusted what the disciples said was true.

When Thomas was able to touch Jesus’ hands, to place his hand IN Jesus’ side, Thomas believed Jesus had risen.

Thomas ceased to doubt.

Thomas had faith in the risen Christ.

We don’t have the privilege of being able to touch the risen Christ, but Jesus has risen and he is here with us. Jesus is here, speaking to as the Word, through the Word, telling us we are loved and forgiven.
Jesus is here, speaking to us through the gift of his body and blood, through bread and wine, telling us his love and forgiveness is for all people.

Jesus is here as we reach out to each other, as we reach out to our community, as we reach out to the world sharing his words of love and grace.

Jesus is here. Jesus is in our hearts. Jesus is on our minds.
Thanks be to God, Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 1, 2018  
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John 20:1-18

Think of the early morning. When the sky is still dark but the day has begun. If you step outside you hear that the birds awake and singing.

The day may have been just such a morning, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus. The day was early, still dark. Mary was mourning the death of a man she followed, a man she deeply cared about, a man she loved. Mary was alone in her grief… when she realized something was wrong! The stone that had been put in place in the front of the tomb, sealing the tomb, had been removed! Mary ran to tell Peter and John, two of the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, finding it empty. The two men saw and they believed Jesus had risen from the dead.
And so they went home.

Mary Magdalene did not go home. Mary Magdalene “stood weeping outside the tomb” (John 20:11).

As she wept, (as she wept!) Mary bent over to look in the tomb. She saw two angels. The angels asked why she was weeping.
“They have taken away my Lord! I do not know where they have taken him!” (John 20:13).
She was weeping, she sounded desperate. Where was Jesus??? What had they done with Jesus?
Then she turned around. Someone was standing there. She thought he was the gardener. The person asked her “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:15).
Mary does not recognize Jesus! She tells the man “If you took the man buried here, where did you put him? Tell me where you put him! I will take him…”

Then Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name. Jesus said “Mary” (John 20:16).

That’s all it took.
Mary turned.
Mary spoke.
“Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher) (John 20:16).

Rabbouni! The word in Hebrew can mean Teacher. It can mean My Master. It can mean Great Teacher. It can mean My Great Teacher. Whatever it meant, the conversation feels intimate to us. The conversation feels personal. The conversation feels loving.

Jesus was alive. Mary loved Jesus. Jesus loved Mary. The resurrected Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name, and she knew him.

***

My Grandma Richmond died when I was a senior in college.
I had four grandmas when I was growing up. My maternal Grandma “Ray” died when I was 10. My Grandpa Ray remarried a few months later. His second wife died a few years after they married. Years later he married again. Arlene. She died, too.
My Grandma Richmond was the only grandma I had who I simply knew as “Grandma.”

When I was in my first year of college I spent my J-term living with my Grandma and Grandpa Richmond. I worked at their church, shadowing their pastors. The pastors described my Grandma as a religiously devout woman. When they drove by her house in the evening they could see her inside, sitting next to her sewing machine under a single standing lamp, reading her bible.
I thought my Grandma was great because she made fresh whipped cream for me every day the whole month I lived with them, simply because she knew how much I loved whipped cream.

Legend has it that, before my Grandma died she was lying in her hospital bed when, all of a sudden she sat up in bed, stretched her arms out in front of her (as if she was reaching for someone) and said “I’m coming!” Then she died.

I believe, in that moment, God called my Grandma by name. Did God take the time to say “Meta Martha Bertha Recknagel Richmond”? I don’t know. Perhaps God simply said “Meta.”

Meta loved God. God loved Meta. God called Meta by name and she knew God.

This is the promise we celebrate today. We celebrate the promise of new life.

God gifts us with life on this good earth as God’s much loved children. And God gifts us with the promise of everlasting life. Life lived with God. Forever.

When each of us who have been baptized was baptized, we were named. At my baptism my name was spoken: “Joanne Sue Richmond, child of God.”
Your name was spoken when you were baptized.
We were promised new birth, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.

Those words were a resurrection promise.

Jesus calls us by name each and every day. Jesus loves us. Always and forever. Always and forever.

Thanks be to God! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

 

 

Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018

March 29, 2018  
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“Prayer”

John 17:1-11

According to the gospel of Matthew, immediately after he was baptized Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days and he prayed.
According to the gospel of Mark, after Jesus called his 12 disciples and performed his first miracle, Jesus went to a lonely place and he prayed.
As we just heard from John, just prior to his betrayal and arrest Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus prayed to God “If you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”

Jesus was a man of prayer.
There are plenty of others in the bible who prayed. The psalms are a collection of prayers both sung and said. Old Testament prophets and kings prayed. In the New Testament, after Jesus died the disciples gathered themselves together and reminded one another to pray.
In the 15th century Martin Luther emphasized the importance of prayer in all he said and did. Luther is said to have said “I have SO MUCH business I cannot get on without spending three hours DAILY in prayer.” The busier he was the more he prayed! (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster p. 34).

This is our legacy, our heritage. For our Judeo-Christian tradition, prayer is vital.

Most of us think of “prayer” and think prayer is something we say to God. Either alone or together, we are speaking to God. Which it is. But prayer can be more.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “A [person] prayed, and at first [the person] thought that prayer was talking. But [the person] became more and more quiet until in the end [the person] realized that prayer is listening” (Celebration of Discipline Foster, p. 39).

When we consider prayer as an act of listening, we open ourselves to hear, to know how and what God is saying to us. That means laying ourselves aside. (Celebration of Discipline Foster p. 39).

So often people think our going to God in prayer means taking our needs to God. Taking our desires to God. Taking our thoughts to God.

Although prayer can be a time to do those things, a deeper prayer life will tell us, there is a point where we need to set aside our own needs.
We set aside our own desires.
We set aside our own opinions and feelings.
We allow love to guide our prayer; love will create the compassion necessary to embody an attitude of prayer.

Then, in prayer we lay the needs of others before God. And we listen…

In our reading tonight we heard Jesus pray a prayer that recognized God’s power to act in his time, in his world, in his moment. Jesus believed his prayer had the power to influence God’s activity. He trusted God.

We are called to open our hearts and minds to God. We are called to be humble in prayer. We are called to have faith in the God we pray to, to pray boldly, to pray confidently.

The events of Holy week tell us, anything can happen when we trust in God.
After all, out of death God gave eternal life to all who believe!!!

Today we pray, trusting in God’s wisdom.
Today we pray, trusting in God’s power.
Today we pray, trusting in GOD, trusting in the God who loves us so much.
Today, and every day we pray as God taught us.
Amen.

Midweek Lent 5 – Wednesday, March 21, 2018

March 21, 2018  
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“Study”

Luke 8:11-15

But as for that in the good soil,
these are the ones who, when they hear the word,
hold it fast in an honest and good heart,
and bear fruit with patient endurance.”
(Luke 8:15)

I find this to be one of the most endearing verses in Luke’s gospel. Endearing because the verse has an intimate feel: a person hears the word of God and that person holds it fast, holds it tightly to her heart. She is holding it tightly to a heart that is good. She is holding it tightly to a heart that is honest. Because of her patient endurance, fruit will grow from the seed planted. The word will spring to life. This is a beautiful, lovely image of the power of God’s word.

We need to KNOW God’s word.

We need to study God’s word.

We need to believe in the power of God’s word.

The purpose of spiritual disciplines is for them to transform our lives. The purpose of the discipline of study is that our studies transform our hearts and our minds.

St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (12:2).

The spiritual discipline of study is a discipline that asks us to gift ourselves with the gift of time: time to study scripture, time to study sacred literature, time to study our natural world, time to study human relationships, time to study our own hearts and minds, time to study the great events of our lifetimes, time to study the little moments that have great meaning. We gift ourselves with the time to think about all of these things, to ask questions about them, to find answers, to wonder about God’s place and God’s desires…

In the Gospel of John it is written that Jesus said “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Jesus didn’t say “You will have the truth.” Jesus didn’t say “You will be given the truth.” Jesus said “you will know…

We study God’s word because we want to know…

We want to know the truth. We want to know God’s love. We want to know we are free. Free from sin. Free to love as God loves us.

I have two bibles that are my favorites. They are both New Revised Standard Versions of the Bible… both I have had many years. If you look at my bibles you will see that the edges of some parts of the bible are more worn than other parts, they are grey. The grey is actually dirt from my fingers that, over time has worn onto the pages I turn to again and again and again.

I love my bibles. I love God’s word. I hope you share my love for the words God has given us. I hope your bible has dirty edges to it. If not—pick it up. Start reading it. Read it again and again, over and over. Ask questions.

Open your good and honest hearts to the seeds that have been and will be planted in you. And God’s word will bear fruit. It will grow. And you will grow as a child of God who is much loved, always. As a child who has much love to give.

Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18, 2018  
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Jeremiah 31:31-34

We know God.

From the least of us to the greatest of us, a measure which varies according to who does the measuring and why, we know God.

We know the God who forgives us.

We know the God who remembers our sin no more.

We know the God who is able to forgive and to forget.

We know God.

Looking ahead on our church calendar, we anticipate next Sunday the drama of the Passion, the story of those last days leading up to the moment of the death of Jesus.

Looking ahead on our church calendar, we anticipate (a week from Thursday) the intimacy of the last supper Jesus had with his disciples, and the despair of his lonely vigil in the garden.

Looking ahead on our church calendar, we will (a week from Friday) remember the path Jesus walked to his death, carrying the cross he was to be hung on.

Looking ahead on our church calendar we anticipate, two weeks from today, our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Every Sunday is a “little Easter” but on Easter Sunday our Alleluias return as we join the angels, singing glory to God in the highest.

Anticipating each event, we remember this morning God’s words spoken to Jeremiah:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

As followers of Jesus, a new law has been written upon our hearts, the law of sacrifice and thanksgiving: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our thankfulness as we receive the promise of eternal life.

God said to Jeremiah:

They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest… [and] I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

We do know God. Each of us, from the least of us to the greatest. We know God. And we know we have been forgiven. And we know our sins are forgotten by God. We know all of this because we have lived all of this, day after day, year after year. This year the Church remembers, as the Church does every year, our need for forgiveness as we walk through the season of Lent, moving toward the day we celebrate that Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed.

Every year we remember the horror of Jesus’ suffering, suffering we know was necessary in order for us to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

What does all of this “knowing” mean?

All of this “knowing” means everything!

To know we can trust in God’s forgiveness frees us from our bondage to sin! Knowing God’s forgiveness turns us toward God rather than away; knowing God forgives us turns us toward the God of love. Knowing God’s love for us infuses us with love for self, infuses us with love for others, infuses us with love for the world.

At least that’s the way it is supposed to work. 😊

A life of faith is rarely so easy as to just know and then to believe.

People spend lifetimes struggling to know and to believe, leaving precious little time to celebrate God’s love and then to live that love.

Good thing God has written God’s grace-full love upon our hearts. “You are forgiven, Joanne,” God has written upon my heart. “You are forgiven, ____________, God has written upon your heart.” “You are forgiven, ___________, ____________, ______________.”

We are forgiven. We are forgiven because God loves us that much, and so much more.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Lent Midweek 4 – Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March 14, 2018  
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Ecclesiastes 5:2

“Silence”

Talking about the discipline of silence means we need to understand what silence is. I know, that seems like a strange thing to say. We all think we know what “silence” means. If I stop talking I will be silent. Sermon over… 🙂

People who have studies the spiritual discipline of silence would tell us otherwise. They would tell us “silence” isn’t merely the absence of sound.

Richard Foster wrote in his book Celebration of Discipline that “Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart of listening to God, is not silence” (p. 98).

Foster went on to quote another spiritual scholar who wrote “A day filled with noise and voices can be a day of silence…” (Catherine Doherty quoted in Celebration of Discipline p. 98).

What then is silence?

Silence is the echo of the presence of God.

The purpose of our silence is for us to see and to hear the presence and the purpose of God.

In his book Foster suggests silence is the presence of control. Not our self-control but God’s control of our self (p. 101).

When I was in college, and again when I was in seminary I attended Silent Retreats at various monasteries. One was in Racine, WI. A couple of them were held at a monastery in the desert in southern CA. Those retreats had a profound impact on my spirituality. Each retreat taught me what my soul already knew, they taught me how important it is to stop, to listen, and to see.

People fear silence. Some folks, maybe some of you, find silence uncomfortable. At home the radio is always on. When going for walks or runs there is a set of earbuds playing off of someone’s favorite play list. When I moved into the first house I ever lived in alone, I swear some evenings all I could hear was the sound of the refrigerator running. My silence was lonely.

What I have been able to do in my life (and some of you may do this, too) is to trust silence. I trust that I am not alone in the silences that I encounter. I trust and believe that God is with me, speaking to me, sharing time and space with me. God is always with us. But in moments of silence we open the door to really acknowledging God’s presence. God’s voice…

***

I haven’t decided if silence is a time of weakness or of strength for me (probably it is both) When silence feels like a time of weakness I am reminded of what Paul wrote to his letter to the Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27).

When we experience silence because there are simply no words… the Spirit is there “sighing” on our behalf. When we experience silence because we are choosing to listen, yearning to know God’s intentions… God’s Spirit is there as well. Speaking. To use last week’s imagery: our silence is our singing wilderness.

***

Let’s engage in a prayer activity:

Please sit up as straight as you can in your pew. Place your hands on your knees open, facing down as if you are turning the things you tend to hold onto over to God… close your eyes…

Let us pray…

God, we give you our anger… (Think about your angers as you let them go…).

God, we give you our fears…(Think about your fears as you let them go…).

God, we give you those things that frustrate us, that create stress for us (Think about those things as you let them go…)

Now, turn your palms up. As you turn your palms upward, you are moving into a posture of receiving what God gives you.

Let us pray.

God, help me to receive the peace only you can give…

God, help me to receive the comfort you provide…

God, help me to receive the hope that comes from you and you alone…

God, help me to receive your love…

Sit in the silence.

God lives in this silence. God speaks in this silence. God loves you. God loves the world.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent -Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018  
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Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:14-21

It was Isaac Newton who said “What goes up must come down.”

I’d like you to consider the reverse, to consider the possibility that what has gone  down must come up.

From John 3:13-14:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Humanity. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Humanity be lifted up.

It is the reverse of the earth’s gravitational pull. Jesus descended from heaven; Jesus had to come down from heaven, to earth. And then, only then was Jesus lifted high, lifted up on the cross; then he descended, only to be raised again as the resurrected Christ. For our salvation. Because God so loved the world.

***

From our Old Testament reading we have the story of the Israelites whining for something better to eat. I can’t blame them. They were eating bug excrement. Research has shown

“Manna is produced by excretions from two closely related species of scale insects…The plant saps on which these insects feed are rich in   carbohydrates but extremely poor in nitrogen content. In order to acquire a minimum amount of nitrogen for their metabolism, they must consume great quantities of sap. The excess passes from them in honeydew excretions which in the dry air of the desert change into drops of sticky solids. These manna pieces later turn a whitish, yellowish or brownish  color… From remote time the resulting sticky and often granular masses have been collected and called manna” (“Manna” in The Interpreter’s   Dictionary of the Bible, volume 3, p. 260).

Simply put, the Israelites were eating bug poop. So they complained and asked for something else to eat.

A seemingly impatient God got testy about their whining and sent poisonous snakes among them. The snakes bit the people and some of them died. The remaining Israelites realized they shouldn’t have spoken out against what God had provided (the manna/bug poop) so they went to Moses, confessed their wrong-doing and begged Moses to ask God to take away the snakes. Moses did. And, as we heard, God told Moses to “make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall live” (Numbers 21:8).

Moses did as God instructed, stuck the bronze serpent on the pole, and lifted the pole high. Whenever one of the poisonous snakes bit someone all they had to do was look up at the bronze serpent to live.

***

We look to Jesus to find life.

***

I don’t know, do we get whiney with God? Probably we do. At least some of us do. Some of the time. We don’t have enough of something. We have too much of something else. The point of the story isn’t Israel’s whining, the point is that God always seems to find a way to provide salvation. When we take a long look at God’s relationship with Israel, and then beyond Israel with the world, God always finds a way to provide salvation.

Our salvation comes through Jesus. Because God so loved the world.

One scholar wrote, reflecting on the reading from Numbers, that “The love of God has no boundaries” (“Numbers 20:1 – 21:35 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 2, p. 167). Even when impatient, weary of our whining, frustrated with our dissatisfactions, God finds a way to save us from ourselves and our sinful behaviors.

And so God sent Jesus down, down from heaven, down from God’s presence, down to the earth, down to his death. We, the people of God killed God’s only son, lifting him high on the cross. He descended again, this time to hell, only to be raised again as the resurrected Christ. For our salvation. Because God so loved the world.

There is one more promises, one more hope. The promise that, when we descend we will rise again. When we die we will be lifted up. We are promised resurrected lives. Thanks be to God, what has gone down must come up.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent Midweek 3 – Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March 7, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

“Simplicity”

Luke 18:15-17

I’d like to tell you about a man I know whose life has embodied “simplicity.” I don’t think he ever made a conscious decision to live simply. I think simplicity has been a way of living that reflects what he believes about life, specifically about life lived as a faithful child of God.

He was born just over 90 years ago in southeastern Wisconsin, which means he was a child growing up during the Great Depression. There were few jobs available for adult men those days; this man’s father, a carpenter by trade, didn’t have a job but did odd jobs that provided him with enough money to sustain the family. Sustain sometimes meant having potatoes in the root cellar and milk on the table, not much more. But there was food. And shelter. And clothes to wear.

The family was Lutheran. This man’s parents were charter members of the local Lutheran Church. People told stories about his parents, about his father working all day, then going to church in the evening, helping to build the church’s first building. This man’s mother was a homegrown biblical scholar. Every day of her adult life, usually in the evening she practiced her faith, devoting specific time to praying and studying. People passing by the family’s home in the evening would see her long after dark, sitting beneath a standing lamp with a single bulb burning, a bible in her lap.

There was nothing fancy about the way the family lived. They worked hard. They gardened. They fished. They hunted. They believed in God. They went to church.

This man graduated high school at 17, immediately enlisting in the navy. He once said he thought the enemy must have known he was coming because, five weeks after he enlisted World War 2 ended. He was honorably discharged after serving one week less than a year.

He went home. He enrolled in a Lutheran College on the GI bill, which covered his first 2 years of school. Then he transferred to Iowa State, where he got a degree in engineering.

After graduating college, in the midst of the Korean War he was drafted into the army. He served state-side.

After military service he moved to southern WI where he met the woman who would become his wife. They moved to Illinois, where he was hired to do research and development for a local manufacturer.

It was the 1950’s. People were living the American Dream, marrying, buying houses, raising children, working long hours.

He didn’t work long hours because he wanted more of anything, he worked long hours because he believed God had given him certain gifts and talents; it was his responsibility to use those talents to their greatest ability. He was giving them back to God. Honestly, in his mind is was coincidental when he became successful, which he did. He became a Vice –president of the company, in charge of research and design.

More important to him was his family, his church, his home…

When their children were young (five of them) the family didn’t have a lot. There weren’t resources for fancy living. The children’s clothes were sewn or handed down. Vegetables came from the large garden they kept, just like the one his parents had. Fruit came from the trees in the yard. Some meat was hunted, some caught fishing. Life was creative, it was fun. There weren’t a lot of complications.

Even when he was a vice-president of the company, this man never owned more than one suit. He had suit jackets, most of them polyester. Evenings and weekends he wore jeans, usually riding low on his hips, his shirt-tail hanging half in, half outside his pants.

The greatest gift this man ever received was and is his heart. His heart was and is faithful, joyful, humble… Even now when he talks about his faith in God it is without arrogance, without specific demands, but with great conviction. His faith inspires the way he has lived his whole life. Inward realities inspire his outer life.

***

When children went to Jesus, his disciples tried to stop them from bothering him. Jesus reprimanded the disciples, saying “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).

It strikes me, the children going to Jesus went without possessions, without anything weighing them down, without anything other than a desire to touch and to be touched.

This is “simplicity.” This desire to go to Jesus, to touch him and to be touched—this is how faith begins. Faith doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that… except we add another layer to our faith by turning around and sharing that desire with others, so they too can be touched.

The simplicity of faith is rooted in one thing and one thing only: love. God’s love. If we simply focus on that, our lives are and will be full.

Amen.

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